I would first of all like to thank the Irish Holstein Friesian Society (IHFA) for the invitation to be with them today. I am delighted the event is being held on Marian and Richard Helen’s farm as I had the privilege to visit this farm recently and also because I have got to know Richard during the last year.
The good weather and the fine crowd and the packed programme should lead to a very enjoyable day for all. I am certainly looking forward to meeting many farmers here today.
I know the IHFA has 3,700 members and that the society has the responsibility for the validity and upkeep of the herdbook. I understand that over 70,000 female cattle are registered every year, representing a quarter of the national herd and equivalent in size to the herds in Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively.
I know that this farm was picked because of the quality of the operation here and the fact that it is the home of the ‘Kilgarriffe’ herd, established in 1965.
As you are all already aware of the work of your society I hope you will forgive me if I now move on to general issues effecting agriculture and the future.
The last year has been one of the most difficult years ever in agriculture with very challenging weather conditions. Thankfully things have changed weather wise in the last few weeks, but it will take farmers some time to make up the losses. Agriculture is a difficult business and we need to ensure the long term future of all types of farming in our country. We need particularly to realise the changes that are taking place and try moulding the future to our needs while accepting there are issues beyond our control.
There has been a lot of debate about the CAP in the last few months and rightly so. However, in that debate, at times, the long term trends have been ignored. In real terms the CAP 2014-2020 will be 13% less than the previous one, and this trend could continue into the future, which means that for progressive farmers an over dependence on direct funding could mean chasing an ever decreasing fund with new objectives. It seems to me that the battle of the future will be about a fair price for the primary producer. Put simply, unless the primary producer is making a consistent adequate profit from their business there is no incentive to produce more to a higher quality. It is not sustainable that parts of Irish agriculture depend on a system of farmers getting a decoupled payment and losing money on the actual farming.
More and more is demanded from farmers in terms of quality and recording. This must be rewarded. Those who produce the best quality product at the highest price must make the most money. Innovation and product development by the processing sector also has a large part to play. Paying the primary producer adequately does not necessarily mean dearer product prices in the shops. Liquid milk is a good case in point. In 1995 the farmer got 43% of the retail price of milk in the shops. That figure is now 32%. If a liquid milk farmer was getting the 43% now it would mean approximately 12 cent extra per litre or €60,000 per annum for a very efficient 100 cow liquid milk producer. Over the last year at my suggestion the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine have been examining the relationship between retailers and primary producers. It was noticeable that one retail group, Dunnes Stores, refused to attend the Committee. At national and EU level there is a need for a mandatory statutory code to ensure that primary producers get a fair price. At a world level, also, if we are to feed an ever increasing population there is also a need to ensure adequate prices for farmers.
The consequences of doing nothing in this regard could be to leave the shelves of our supermarkets without fresh milk at times during the year and large tracts of land unfarmed. For the foreseeable future this issue of a fair return to farmers across all commodities must dominate the agenda at home and abroad. On my first visit to West Cork, as spokesperson on agriculture, this was brought home to me by local farmers here. I have become convinced this is where the battle ground of the future is and I am determined to be in the vanguard of the fight.
The development of our rural areas and rural economy require this; our national economy also depends on a vibrant food and beverages sector and finally one of the founding principles of the EU was food security which is as important now as ever. We take food for granted and presume there will always be adequate supplies of food available in our shops and markets. Nothing could be further from the truth with the world only having a few days’ supply of food at any one time. Cheap food used to be the motto. Adequate supplies of good quality food at a fair and sustainable price to primary producer, processor, distributor and retailer an ultimately to the consumer must be our goal.